How I Scored Visits to the Nicest Hotels in the World…for Free
In 2010, a friend of mine started a travel magazine and asked if she could publish an article I had written about a Kashmiri tailor, during a month I spent living on a houseboat in Kashmir.
I had stayed on the tailor’s boat during the winter, and I was the only guest. George Harrison had stayed there 47 years earlier, when he was studying the sitar with Ravi Shankar. I typed the piece on the hotel owner’s typewriter. But my friend who ran the magazine, a grifter like me, couldn’t pay real money. She compensated me instead with “hotel trades.”
She explained how it worked: I would approach independently owned hotels with a copy of her media kit and a proposal. In exchange for a two-night stay, I would write a 500-word review. She advised me to avoid big corporate hotels, because press people there had to go through so many chains of command they would often dismiss the request outright. “You need a small place,” my friend said, “where somebody can make the decision right there.” She added, “Don’t bother with inexpensive places. It’s bizarre, but the more expensive they are, the more likely they are to agree.”
I grew up in a state of financial volatility. Until I was 18 and my grandmother died, my grandfather would visit me and my mom at our home in Houston, from his mansion in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and for a week, money would flow like water. One Christmas, he saved all the money wrappers from the cash he’d spent and proudly put them in a photo album: they totaled $10,000. But then he would leave, the money would dry up, and we’d go from feast to famine. Sometimes, our lights, water, or phone would go out. Sometimes we’d spend $80 on tomatoes. Or my mom would spend $8,000 on Chinese antiquities, but we’d run out of gas on the way home. It wasn’t that bad, it was just crazy.
I Went to a Japanese Wine Spa
Tokyo feels like the world’s entertainment capital, where idle boredom is an impossible option. Whether it’s going to an arcade, taking care of a digital pet on your cellphone, or heading over to acuddle cafe, personal amusement is obtained on demand, through an infinite number of avenues. But with all of these unending lists of pleasurable options, there also seems to be an unspoken discipline in Japanese culture; a silent code that dictates that recreation strictly occur before and after your daily obligations.
It’s because of this mentality that certain types of pre-packaged entertainment getaways appear to be more prevalent in Japan than in the United States, where onsen (hot springs) are one of the most common staycation preferences amongst Japanese locals. With more than 25,000 naturally-occurring mineral hot springs across the country, Japan’s geothermal areas help power 3,000 spa resorts. Ranging from the natural to the man-made, these hot springs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Traditional onsen are a collection of shallow pools where men and women gather separately to hang out in the nude and recoup from the daily grind. Onsen offer a variety of baths with jets, waterfalls, and weak, non-hazardous currents of electricity running through their lukewarm, rejuvenating waters.
On a recent trip to Tokyo, Japan, the possibility of bathing inside of a flavored onsen appeared on my radar. My girlfriend, Elena, and I decided to pay a visit to Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a family-friendly resort two hours Southwest of Tokyo, where you can swim in a pool of green tea, wine, coffee, or sake.
Elena in a giant pool of green tea.
Like any other onsen, visible tattoos of any kind are forbidden at the Yunessun resort. I saw a lot of bandages covering biceps, ankles, and the lower area of women’s backs. If you come to the Yunessun with a lot of ink to cover, you’re forced to buy a white spandex shirt that you are required to wear throughout the spa day.
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I Went on a Hash Making Holiday in Northern Morocco
Until the Spanish occupation of northern Morocco in the 1920s, Chefchaouen was basically a closed city. In fact, when troops first arrived, they found Jews in the area speaking a medieval form of Castilian Spanish that hadn’t been heard on the Iberian peninsula for around 400 years, and a population that was more opposed to Christianity than reddit’s entire swamp of militant keyboard atheists.
But thanks to the Spanish valiantly wiping out decades of cultural heritage, the city has now opened up to become a popular tourist spot. Backpackers flock in from around the world to take selfies next to its beautiful blue-washed architecture, eat its famous regional goat cheese, and—more than anything else—take advantage of the thriving local hash industry.
Morocco is said to produce nearly half of the world’s hashish, and it’s estimated that around 800,000 Moroccans work in the industry—mostly in the Rif, the mountainous region of northern Morocco where Chefchaouen is located. The debate about decriminalizing that industry has been bubbling away in parliament for a while, with a member of the opposition saying in August that his party hopes to legalize cannabis production within the next three years.
Why Are There So Many Mentally Ill Drug Addicts in Cornwall?
Cornwall is David Cameron’s favorite summer chill spot. It is a coastal retreat where private schoolchildren from the United Kingdom go to spend their General Certificate of Secondary Education results money on Fat Face hoodies and retired doctors wander the National Trust beaches drinking scrumpy out of tubs and doing watercolors of trees. However, inside this quant paradise are some of the most drug-addled and mentally sick communities in the UK.
One of these areas is Penzance. It’s a civil parish that is colloquially known as “brown town,” because of its abundance of heroin, or “holiday homeless,” because of its large population of vagrant people. It’s the terminus of the First Great Western railway, the last major town in the South West before you hit the sea and home to an abnormally high percentage of people with dual diagnosis—those suffering from both mental health issues and substance misuse problems.
The proportion of people in drug treatment in Cornwall with mental health problems has doubled in the past year and is now running at a rate way above the national average. As well as that, only 55 percent of people with mental illnesses are in settled accommodation and drug and alcohol misusers are the section of society most urgently in need of housing. Put these statistics together, and it seems like Cornwall is a county of mentally ill addicts with nowhere to go.
Four Days at Toddstock – Celebrating Todd Rundgren’s 65th Birthday with His Cult
By the time we get to White Castle, Louisiana—more than an hour’s drive outside of New Orleans, past swamps and daiquiri shops and meat pie vendors—it’s nighttime, and halos of light encircle Nottoway, a massive, picturesque former plantation that now serves as a tourist attraction. Its verdant grounds—which contain a lavish saltwater pool, a volleyball court, and a café—can be rented out for weddings, corporate events, and, apparently, weeklong birthday parties for aging rock stars.
The star in question is Todd Rundgren, who is putting on a small festival in honor of his 65th birthday and he and his wife Michele’s 15th anniversary called ToddStock 2. You probably don’t name your birthday parties like that, but you also probably do not have fans willing to pay $799, plus travel costs, to camp in their own tents just to bask in your presence. For the price of admission you get two buffet meals and one open-bar happy hour per day. Renting air conditioning for your tent costs $200 extra. Rundgren threw ToddStock 1 five years ago at his home in Kauai, Hawaii, and it was free for anyone who made the trek out to the island. Three hundred obsessives showed up to the original ToddStock, and this year’s event, in June, attracted 160. The ToddStockers all being well-off white folks, fancy cottages on Nottoway’s grounds sold out within hours of the announcement, as did the nearby Best Western. These are more than fans. Call them apostles, or members of a friendly, well-adjusted cult.
Magaluf Is a Paradise
Once upon a time, before people, Majorca was just an island. It was a paradise adorned with golden sandy beaches and placid beasts who roamed around thinking: “My word, isn’t this a wonderful and quiet place? Mostly quiet. It’s a very quiet place.”
And then people came along—mostly people from the UK, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia, invited by the native Spaniards—and provided human traffic for thousands of nightclubs and bars. And in these nightclubs and bars, they danced and binge drank, and then that spilled over onto the beaches, and that’s when people started puking and pissing on the animals, and fucking in front of them.
And eventually the people became the animals. And we present this photo blog to you as evidence of that.
I don’t know about you, but this summer heat is making me look forward to the days of my retirement. Days when I won’t have to hate the sun just because it seems to shine on everyone and everything else but me, my badly lit computer screen, and the exhaustingly strong office air conditioning.
Then again, I also think about how, when those days arrive, none of the pretty young people at the beach will mind me perving over them since I’ll be a weirdly shaped bag of excess skin. And that is terrifying. But maybe also nice.
So, you know, with that in mind, here are a few of Chris Cooper’s pictures of olds unashamedly strutting their stuff while on vacat in Tenerife to get you thinking about your own mortality.